What Does Multigenerational Living Mean

Be it the economy or just wanting to bond, families are moving in together to share a household. This is the foundation of multigenerational living. But what does that mean?

Multigenerational living is when generations of a family come together and live in one house. It usually encompasses grandparents, parents and grandchildren. Often these generations come together for economic, health or social reasons. Adult children moving home have contributed to this phenomenon.

Living in a multigenerational  home has many complexities. It goes beyond a simplistic definition. I’ll discuss what it really means and how you can make it work.

Multi Gen Living Has Several Layers

Most people think that families come together only for economic needs. That’s often the case, but it does go deeper than the dollar.

When an adult child loses their job, they have needs. The adult of course needs help economically, but there’s more to it. They have just been through a life changing event.

Likewise, if a grandparent has health problems and needs additional help, they need more than just help out of bed or buttoning their clothes. Poor health is also life changing. Living the multi-gen lifestyle gives an aging adult the stimulation and closeness they need to heal or at least maintain.

Living in a multigenerational household often encompasses many things. But there are several factors that dominate the experience. They include:

  • Pooling resources
  • Care
  • Support

We’ll take a look at these three reasons to combine households.

Pooling Resources Means More than Just Money

When you’re down and out financially, it’s very helpful and smart to move in with your parents until things improve. Even if you have a steady income it may not be enough to live on your own.

Or the opposite, may occur. Mom and dad are on a fixed income and are having a problem making ends meet. They need additional resources to maintain their lifestyle. These two reasons are the traditional meaning of resources when talking about multigenerational homes. But that’s not the whole story.

The word “resources” equates to advantages. There are non-monetary advantages for living with your parents or having them live with you. It could be as simple as helping around the house, cutting the grass or doing the cooking. Just because someone doesn’t have a dime to toss into the pot, doesn’t mean they don’t have resources to contribute to the family.

An individual talent shared to lighten the load is considered a resource.

One resource that’s worth all the tea in China is experience. If you’re living in a three-generation household, tap into grandma and grandpa. They’re a resource better than the internet. They know it because they’ve lived it. Mom and dad have experienced life’s bumps and joys as well. Take advantage of these great resources.

Multigenerational Living is a Caring Experience

Caring is another word for love. Love your family. You don’t have to agree all the time and there are times of strife, but ultimately, a multi-gen family is a caring family. The initial reason may be economic, but if you didn’t care for each other, that wouldn’t matter.

No one is going to move in with someone they don’t care about. On the flip side no one is going to have someone move into their house that they don’t care about. Multigenerational families care deeply for each other.

Support is Available for and From Different Generations

It’s good to have someone back your play. And multigenerational families do just that. Someone wants to read a book; someone else makes sure you have peace and quiet. Gone through a bad break-up; there’s a shoulder to cry on.

It goes beyond monetary support. It’s knowing that even if there’s not total agreement, your family will be there for you. Sometimes they’re there to cheer you on. And sometimes they’re there to pick up the pieces. Regardless of the situation, you are supported.

When an adult child loses their job, they have a need for all three of these. The child of course needs help economically, but there’s more to it. They have just been through a life changing event. This adult needs care—love—and support. Multigenerational living provides those elements.

Like wise, if a grandparent has health problems and needs additional help, they too will need care and support and shared resources. Poor health is also life changing. Living the multi-gen lifestyle gives an aging adult the stimulation and closeness they need to heal or at least maintain.

Most Multi Gen Homes Consist of a Millennial and Parent

There’s a much more likelihood of an adult child living with their parent than an aging parent living with their child. These are usually millennials who have moved back into the home with their parents. In other words, grandpa and grandma are less likely to live with their child and grandchild.

But it does happen. One third of children who live with grandparents also have two parents present. Although there is some stress among all the generations in one house, there are positives.  Adult children often cite the experience of two additional generations under one roof as a positive experience.

Underage children in particular, enjoy having grandma and grandpa around. They tend to be healthier and grandparents often teach their grandchildren:

  • Values
  • Morals
  • Language skills

Millennials bringing their children home is becoming a wide spread phenomenon. But it often turns into a win win for everyone.

Who is Likely to Live in a Multigenerational Home

There are several different types of individuals who choose to live with their parents. The experience of living in a multi-gen household is influenced by exactly who is living in the home. Some individuals are:

  • Single
  • Male
  • Those who have Low income jobs
  • Unemployed
  • Single mom
  • Aging parent

We’d like to think this mix of personalities could meld together beautifully. But realistically, there are challenges that come along with the joy.

Single Adults Tend to Live with Parents

Most of the time, an adult child living with a parent is single. The thinking often is, why run a home or an apartment for only one person when your parents have extra space. There is often a financial need. Single adults are usually just starting out. And may not have the income for an apartment deposit. Student loans could also be weighing them down.

This is an opportunity to pay those loans or save for that deposit. These are not lazy adults; they are just not yet able to afford to live on their own.  This is due to:

  • High cost of housing
  • Low wages
  • Student loans

And since they are single, they don’t have two incomes to help overcome these disadvantages.

Gender a Factor in Living in Multi Gen Household

Gender plays a part. Most young adults who move home are male. The stereotype of a young guy sitting in his parents’ basement playing video games is therefore perpetuated. One reason why there are more men living at home, is marriage. More women are married than men.

And since more singles live with parents than married couples, it adds up. You’re going to have a greater likelihood of males moving back in or staying with their parents.

Most men wait until later to get married. Whereas most women are married in their 20s, most men wait until 30s. And let’s face it, it’s hard with just one income to rent or own a home. This leaves a lot of single guys with one income, living with mom and dad.

Most Adult Children Have an Income

Living with your parent doesn’t mean you’re a parasite. More than half of adults who live with their parents have some form of employment. Unfortunately, in the current economy, it may not be a high paying job.

Suddenly Unemployed Creates Need

The pandemic threw a lot of youth out of work. But before that, they were working; not leaching. Many are taking whatever job they can, to get by. They just need their parents’ help through this.

According to the Pew Report, 35 percent of adults 18-29 lost or know someone who lost their job. Considering that in 2019 there were roughly 46 million adults in that age bracket. The number is slightly skewed because of that 33 percent, each person many have known several people who lost their job.

A lot of young adults just couldn’t continue on their own. They not only needed financial help but emotional support.

The need was also created when some parents lost their jobs as well. This created a need for families to band together and wait out the crisis.

Single Moms or Dads Come Home for Help

Divorced or single mothers have also made the move to mom and dad’s house. There are many levels of support that are needed in this circumstance. They need:

  • Emotional assistance
  • Financial assistance
  • Childcare assistance

Emotional support goes with companionship. Single and or divorced mothers can sometimes be lonely. Let’s face it, they come home from work and besides little one or teenage talk, there’s not an adult around to share the day with. Most single moms feel isolated. That’s where mom and dad come in.

Not only can they be a good shoulder to lean on, but they can take over childcare while you have a chance to shake off the day.

And let’s not forget those single dads. Like the moms, they have a difficult time working fulltime and taking care of children. It can become both overwhelming and lonely.

The economics of living with a parent is a big consideration. One in four parents living in the U.S. are single. And 27% of these single parents live in poverty. That’s a motivating factor to move in with parents.

If you’re 24, have a child and are divorced, you might find it hard to live on your own. This is not only for the women. Increasingly, men are finding themselves in this predicament. A 24-year-old man who has custody or joint custody, often needs mom and dad’s help.

Does Everyone Get Along in Multigenerational Living?

It’s not all kumbaya. There are disagreements sometimes. Most of them have to do with lack of communication and not setting expectations from the start. Those families that don’t “spell it out” from the beginning have periodic problems.

With young adults moving back into their parents’ house, the number one complaint is being treated like a teenager. And conversely the number one complaint of parents is that their adult child acts like a teenager. Obviously, there’s a breakdown in communication somewhere.

Boundaries need to be set. Expectations of who does what, need to be stated. And respect must be given by both parties. But although there were challenges most young adults found that while living with their parents, they received more support with them than they did while on their own.

Adjusting Your House for an Aging Parent or Adult Child

If you have an aging parent move in, you usually need to accommodate the physical limitations. This could mean:

  • Bedroom on first floor
  • Adjacent apartment
  • Separate entrances
  • Separate bathrooms
  • Dual spaces

If you have your millennial child move in, you’ll want to set the home up to accommodate them as well. It comes down to the big word….privacy. And by thinking ahead, you can avoid issues down the road.

Bedroom on the First Floor

An aging parent may not be able to handle stairs. A bedroom on the first floor is a godsend. Make sure the bedroom has its own bathroom. If you can, take it a step further and provide a kitchenette.

But the bare bones you should have is a first floor bedroom.

Adjacent Apartment Works for Any Generation

Independence is a major concern for aging parents. They don’t want to be a “burden”. Having their own apartment connected with the main house will do wonders to establish that semblance of independence.

Adult children also want independence. They aren’t teenagers anymore. And they shouldn’t have to inform their parents where they’re going and when they’ll be home. When living in the main house, that can happen. It’s only natural.

The best possible solution is if you have the resources and land, is to build an ADU or accessory dwelling unit in the backyard. This has the best of both worlds. Your aging parent will have their home, or your adult children will have their home. And although you have separate dwellings, you still have that closeness that comes with multigenerational living.

Privacy or lack thereof, is a common complaint of families who live in the same house. Separate, apartments, living on different floors and ADUs can alleviate that feeling of too much closeness.

Separate Bathrooms Create Peace and Tranquility

No one likes to share a bathroom. And your aging parent or adult child are no exception. Try to set up a house that accommodates this. An en suite bath to the first floor bedroom is a great option for an aging parent. Or put the adult children on the second floor and take the first floor bedroom with en suite. Everyone has a bath and privacy. Best of both worlds

When Building Plan for Dual Spaces

Be it an office or a bedroom, each room should be able to accommodate any function. Bedrooms need closets and windows to be compliant with codes. Build all rooms with that in mind. You never know when you’ll need them.

Multigeneration Living Means Support and Love

Ultimately the meaning of multigenerational living is support and love. Adults and children banding together to weather the storm and sometimes just for convenience.

This dynamic is happening more and more. The trend has been happening for a while and it doesn’t seem to be changing any time soon. The pandemic merely speeded it up.

Good comes from this. Most young adults and grandparents will come out ahead in the end. They will learn from each other and share experiences that they otherwise wouldn’t have.

Anne Johnson

Anne is both a writer and a Nana. She attended University of Akron and went on to have a career in television sales. She now writes and promotes the multigenerational lifestyle. Currently she resides in South Carolina with her husband, two cats, a horse and fabulous grands.

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